The role of the regions in transforming the UK’s post-pandemic economy

As Birmingham continues to transform, The Business Desk hosted a webinar on Wednesday 30th March to discuss the best ways to level up the region.

Topics ranged from how the region can build from the momentum generated by the Commonwealth Games, how nearshoring is back on the agenda and the region’s strong sectors such as automotive innovation and life sciences.

In addition, what opportunities the region will receive through the arrival of HS2 and how the landscape will change due to major developments which are shooting up.

Our Midlands Editor Sam Metcalf was joined by a panel of experts;

  • Richard Beverley, Managing Partner, Birmingham, Freeths
  • Beverley Nielsen, County Councillor at Worcestershire County Council
  • Anita Bhalla, Interim Chair, GBSLEP
  • Raj Kandola, Head of Policy, Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce
  • David Atkinson, Regional Head of Land & Development, Willmott Dixon

Do you think that investment in Birmingham is outstripping the rest of the Midlands and if you do think that, why do you think it is?

Richard Beverley
“Birmingham is going to be a natural place for people to look whether they’re inward investors or whether they’re people looking to move out of London.

“There are also obviously a number of sort of key things which are now coming together like the Commonwealth Games, and HS2. These are all helping Birmingham, but there’s good stuff happening elsewhere.

“We’ve heard recently about money being made available for regeneration in Wolverhampton. We know that we’ve got the new battery plant in Coventry. I think it will be a mistake to look at the various centres in the region as being in competition with one another. The key is to work together and hopefully to leverage off the natural interest and inclination towards Birmingham for the benefit of the other towns and cities in the West Midlands.”

Anita Bhalla
“We’ve got some amazing buildings, amazing investment, lots of professionals coming into the city in the region, but we’re in danger.

“But if you look at unemployment figures say amongst young people, we’re in danger of creating a two-tier society where professionals come in and live in amazing houses and we want them here, but we must not forget to bring the rest of our communities up to a level where we can all enjoy the richness the region.”

The ESG movement has meant a lot of companies are bringing their supply chains back closer to home and that will obviously help with local jobs, is that something you’re hearing more and more of?

Raj Kandola
“I think if the pandemic showed anything, it showed the fragility of supply chains, particularly for example medical supplies, I think that that kind of process of nearshoring was in track before the onset of the pandemic.

“If you think about the advantages that organisations in our city have, you think about the innovation, you think about the universities we’ve got here, the six business parks and you think about the transport connectivity we have here. You can reach any part of the UK within four hours.

“I think there’s a lot going for us right now that we need to hide to maximise and I think that’s what’s going to be key in the next couple of years as we try to build back from the pandemic.”

David Atkinson
“As a business community, there’s a huge, huge onus on us to start to take ownership of issues.

“We should absolutely focus some of our recruitment and our development on people in apprenticeship schemes or people who are transitioning from different careers on wanting to find something new to do, people in the armed services, etc.

“There are real opportunities for us to be able to tap into some great talents and really dedicated individuals that don’t come through some of the traditional routes. We find that they are some of our most committed colleagues who work alongside us, as they’ve been given that opportunity with our support to shine.

How do we make sure that it’s not just Birmingham city centre that benefits from HS2?

Beverley Nielsen
“I think that Midlands Connect and the Midlands Rail Hub plans are absolutely critical in terms of upgrading the infrastructure, ensuring greater connectivity between our cities, especially out to some of the rural areas where commuters are coming in from.

“Between Midlands Connect and the Combined Authority, we must make sure we get the £700 million or so which, in transport terms is not a lot of money into our area, especially when we know London has had this vast overweight funding on transport compared to the other regions and our own.”